Food is essential to life. A lot of our time and energy is spent thinking about, seeking, and preparing food. Food is so integral to our life that it’s no surprise that it often turns up in the movies we watch and the books that we read.
I was going on a walk with my husband, as we tend to do twice a day when the weather permits, and I started to form this theory. Many of the books I consider to be “good” tend to involve food. It does not mean that the books have to revolve around food (though they most certainly can, as evidenced by the Hunger Games, wherein Suzanne Collins always makes me feel hungry) just that characters feed themselves, or attempt to do so.
A lot of writers choose a single aspect to be indulgent in with their purple prose. A popular favorite is clothes, which always makes me want to gag. I’ve read too many fanfictions to be impressed by those sorts of shenanigans anymore. Other times it might be the majesty of the landscape, or the intricacies of architecture.
Food tends to be a pretty safe place to indulge your purple prose. If food is what you choose to describe in vivid detail, then the worst that can happen is that you make your reader hungry. I thought this was a fairly hard and fast rule to determine a good author from a bad. And for the most part I’ve been right.
The one exception I have found is Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Still, the best writing in the book is done describing food. The food is the unsung hero of the book.
George R.R Martin, J.K. Rowling, Tolkien, Suzanne Collins, Roald Dahl, Jim Butcher, and many more authors that I don’t have room to list here, describe food in detail or have characters who regularly eat.
I have noticed a fascinating phenomenon in fiction- and romance in particular- where the female lead rarely if ever eats. It’s as if its too shameful for the author to admit that their kick ass and conventionally attractive lead has to eat. It’s a red flag for me when the main character is never shown eating on screen.
Take, for example, Bella from Twilight. Bella is hardly ever shown eating while the narrating is going on. She skips lunch and drinks a lemonade as a substitute for a meal during school. She skips dinner after the outing to First Beach. Her routine revolves around making food for Charlie, but yet we hardly ever see her eat the food she makes. She has only a few moments on screen where she eats anything. To be fair, Bella is far from a kick ass heroine, but she is still our main lead.
Meyer gets better about this in The Host, because Melanie and Wanderer get to eat. Eating is done as part of the routine of living, as it should be.
This is also evident in another bane of my existence as a critic, Anita Blake. As of yet I don’t plan to review this series. If you’d like to see a really funny and interesting blog that reviews it you could check it out here. She’s a lot further along in the series than I am, and I don’t want to steal her thunder. Instead I eventually plan to review The Dark Hunter series by Sherrilyn Kenyon. It shares a lot of the same problems, but without the very occasional laugh and moments of self-awareness that Anita can sometimes have.
As I was saying, in all of the of the Anita Blake books I’ve had the misfortune to read, (I’ve read six of them thus far, not in order. That doesn’t really matter though, since they all share the same format) Anita seems to have this trait as well.
Anita is rarely shown on screen eating. In Dead Ice Anita is pestered by her harem to eat all the time. She doesn’t. This feeding on energy, the Ardeur, or feeding on anger is no substitute for eating. It cannot nourish her body, only food can do that. It could possibly delude her brain and stomach into thinking they are not hungry, much in the way dieters will drink a lot of water to feel full.
Anita does not eat even the protein bars that her lovers pack for her to eat on the road. I mean seriously, why not? That’s not a lot of food. Now I could be wrong, and there might be places in other books where she eats regularly, but I doubt it. Disaster always strikes before Anita can eat, and she conveniently forgets to do so after.
Anita has even less excuse to neglect her health than Bella. Bella is your average teenage girl who does little to no physical exercise. She’s largely sedentary, and all her hobbies are passive. Anita is very, very active. She apparently is quite muscular and lifts weights all the time. She tries to keep up with the gym routine that her guards do. She’s a Federal Marshall and she apparently meets the physical requirements to be on a SWAT team.
She’s also a “lycanthrope” (I use the term loosely because she doesn’t actually change shape.) Shouldn’t she have a higher metabolism than normal? That would mean she’d need more food just to maintain weight, let alone all the physical demands of her many jobs.
By all rights Anita Blake should be a skeleton, not a buff vampire slayer.
I could keep going all night about examples I’ve seen of this phenomenon. 9/10 times if I see a book with characters that neglect their health like that, I know it’s not a book I’ll like. I suppose this is technically a nitpick, but I want you all to know where I’m coming from, because I have this nitpick a lot.